Three medical specialists say the intense focus on the virus fight has created a backlog of other patients who are not able to access care. File Picture:Nokuthula Mbatha
Three medical specialists say the intense focus on the virus fight has created a backlog of other patients who are not able to access care. File Picture:Nokuthula Mbatha

Patients with chronic illnesses left in the cold as SA focuses on Covid-19

By Bongani Nkosi Time of article published May 25, 2020

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Treatment and diagnosis of non-Covid-19 patients have taken a back seat in the country’s hospitals as health resources have been channelled to fight the virus.

This is the revelation by three neurosurgery, radiation oncology and otolaryngology specialists as well as a Covid-19 volunteer from the Groote Schuur Hospital, Western Cape.

Head of neurosurgery division Allan Taylor, Covid-19 volunteer Bettina Taylor, head of radiation oncology Jeannette Parkes and Johannes J Fagan, heading the otolaryngology division, expressed their concerns and recommendations in an article published by the South African Medical Journal.

“The authors have witnessed how the intense focus on the virus fight has created a backlog of other patients who are not able to access care,” they wrote.

“Many cancer diagnoses and hence treatments have been delayed, as have joint replacements and cataract surgery.

“Patients with diabetes, asthma and other chronic illnesses have missed appointments. Many are unable to access medications.

“We cannot offer dialysis to everyone with kidney failure, cannot admit all our head injury patients to intensive care, and cannot prescribe expensive drugs to every deserving patient,” they added.

This was a result of channelling resources to Covid-19, they wrote. This entailed clearing wards and redirecting clinical specialists.

“The focus of South African politicians and health-care planners has been to ‘save lives’ by redirecting material and human resources to prevent and treat Covid-19.

“Both private and public hospitals have stopped elective imaging, procedures and surgery.

“Clinical specialists from all areas of practice have been called to the front line to assist with screening of patients.”

It was now “opportune to take a step back and evaluate whether we are using our health-care resources appropriately”, said the doctors.

“Whereas the pandemic necessitates the implementation of unusual measures as a result of the highly infectious nature of Sars-CoV-2, we must now ensure that the care of non-Covid-19 patients is not compromised as a result of the undue prioritisation of Covid-19 patients. 

"We need to avoid all our hospitals and doctors becoming ‘Covid-19 hospitals’ and ‘Covid-19 doctors’ to the exclusion of appropriately managing other diseases, perhaps with better prognosis.”

The four were not the first group of doctors to voice concern over treatment of other diseases being compromised. A group of 38 doctors wrote a five-page letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa last week complaining about this trend. 

@BonganiNkosi87

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